News / Ottawa

Ottawa Bluesfest taking steps to prevent sexual assault

For the third straight year, the city's biggest music festival will be working with Project SoundCheck to train staff in prevention techniques.

Wayne Coyne of the band The Flaming Lips performs at the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest on Tuesday, July 5, 2011.

The Canadian Press/Patrick Doyle

Wayne Coyne of the band The Flaming Lips performs at the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest on Tuesday, July 5, 2011.

It’s commonly assumed that when thousands of people are crammed into small spaces and given drugs and alcohol, sexual assaults are likely to occur.

But organizers of Ottawa's highest-profile music festival aren’t accepting such criminal acts as inevitable at their event.

For the third year in a row, RBC Bluesfest is working with Project SoundCheck, a program run by Ottawa’s Sexual Assault Network, which provides training to the festival’s organizers, security and first aid staff, and approximately 3,500 volunteers.

The program’s aim is to create a safer, more enjoyable festival culture.

“The program is built around creating social norm change,” says Stefanie Lomatski, one of Project SoundCheck’s project managers. “What we see at a lot of festivals is a lot of rape culture.”

Though Ottawa police don’t specifically track sexual assaults at festivals, Staff Sergeant Alison Cookson said, “it’s a problem. We do know that it’s underreported. It goes with the old adage that that’s what happens at an event.”

In addition to providing training, Project SoundCheck and other community organizations are performing what they call a community-safety audit, which evaluates the event’s safety measures. Lighting, security surveillance and access to high-traffic areas are among the factors considered.

Elsy David, program director of the Women’s Initiatives for Safer Environments, praised Bluesfest organizers, saying they’ve been “extremely co-operative.”

Change “requires a fundamental shift in thinking,” she said. “When you send that message to the public, it will have some sort of impact.”

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